The lab's now locked up and double-bolted, and I'm outside in the field. But before I proceed with the fieldwork for Making Sense, we've been asked to explore a rapid cycle of Design Thinking through the exploration of a short term group project.
For this project, massively inspired by our experience of Araby's performance at the first CMP Salon event back in November, we all wanted to explore the idea of long-form folk music performances as a podcast format.
With the ever-decreasing duration of traditional music streaming listening habits, there is a beautiful opportunity for musicians to occupy a space that has been created by this shift; an opposing space of longer-form musical narrative. Song Stories would provide the space, a format, and structure to support artists in the exploration of their art in this new space. Providing listeners with a for-podcast live traditional storytelling experience with comforting regularity and the convenience afforded by modern media consumption platforms. In a world of on-demand immediate and non-localised media consumption, live story music needs a new platform; we believe that the Song Stories podcast is that platform. (The napkin pitch for this project has been archived here.) With our first group huddle, and the empathy dial set to pre-heat, we made our first outing of project planning; we had a vision for this podcast, but who were our target audience and what would they want? We immediately jumped into cold interviews (with people in corridors, uni foyers, and even on trains) and initiated an online target audience survey in order to start gaining some valuable insights. To our delight a grand total of 108 people filled in our podcast survey! ...and we even bagged a nice wide geographical spread (thanks to Reddit!) with people from South America, North America, Europe, and Asia taking the time to fill out our survey. Here is a rundown of some of the stats:
Also, a summary of responses to our open questions, and face to face interviews, were pulled into this digest document here. But the following excerpt from this digest, in particular, caused us to scramble for the emergency brake cord, and pull it HARD - let's see if you can spot why...
Why do they listen to podcasts?
Like the general chat.
Able to be engaged whilst multitasking.
Everyone wants to hear a story.
Not a massive music fan.
Yep. That's right. Amongst the top 5 responses we'd seen, 'not a massive music fan' was a fairly common trait of podcasts listeners. Which puts us in an interesting position... y'know... for SONG Stories. This absolutely doesn't mean that this podcast shouldn't exist! ...but the slant required to generate appeal amongst podcast listeners would need to reflect these findings. To briefly benchmark this against other successful podcasts - the highly popular Welcome To Nightvale has done well to broach the issue of music placement in podcasts. With its cult-like following and persisting listenership it safe to say the fans of Nightvale are absolutely in this for the deep-seated narrative, world lore, and the characters (the dream of any producer or worldbuilder is to end up with a wiki page for your creation on Fandom right?!). However, the long-standing feature "...and now the weather" has provided independent music artists with a platform within a podcast that slots beautifully into the show's format - a sequencing that feels seamless, but doesn't mask or dilute the featured music either... it's there, and it's there as it should be. The interesting part is that many of the tracks that have found their way into this podcast have become well-known fan favorites. With this, we can see that musicians can indeed successfully utilise long-form podcasts to present music to new audiences - an audience made up of people who, as we can now see, are commonly known to describe themselves as 'not a massive music fan'. Is podcasting a gateway for musicians to win over new audiences? When it's done right, it looks like it certainly can be.
From this final round of reflections, we assemble the most recent blueprint for the format of the podcast. The ratio of chat to music had now been skewed in a way that definitely challenged our initial assumptions, but now seems better suited to the wants of our target audiences as per our survey and interview findings; that of more chat, and less music. Song Stories would now dedicate most of its runtime to personable, relatable, fun conversations, then, leading into the backstory of the song, and finally leading to the performance of the song at the apex of the podcast. On Thursday we managed to secure The Rogue Fox Coffee House in Newport, South Wales, as our public venue for the recording of the pilot episode of Song Stories. Making use of this warm, comfortable, and intimate public space, we specifically arranged the room without a 'stage', making sure to place the performer within the circle of audience members. This helped to create a campfire-hearth-like arrangement designed to foster loose conversation between the performer, host, and audience members. This was an effort to break live music and even live podcasting conventions by removing the feeling or illusion of any barriers or walls between the audience and the performer. This was to be a social space. The venue was sympathetically mic'd up with this guiding principle in mind as well and featured a non-invasive mic for the performer, and room mics for everything else, to generate an inclusive 'room' sound for any conversations captured throughout the recording.
...and that was that! The final edit of our pilot podcast for Song Stories was in the can, and it's something that we're all actually quite proud of! The podcast itself can now be found over at www.songstories.club
As part of the closing evaluation of this micro project - moving forwards we identified ways in which this podcast endeavor could be honed, sustained, and scaled. The sourcing of small suitable venues on a podcast by podcast basis would not be the most efficient way to scale this into a major project. Instead, a process of batch serialisation would need to take place, with a run of 5-6 half-hour podcasts being captured during each 3-hour live audience recording. With a lineup of 5-6 guests performing in each episode, resulting in 3 months of bi-weekly podcast releases. ...and this is something we're strongly considering! We'll see how the pilot goes down with everyone, but the hunger to keep Song Stories going is riding high with everyone indeed. But for now, this concludes our group micro-project, and I have to say, I'm already feeling very humbled by this refreshing reminder of the power of human-centred design and what can happen when you allow your vision to be molded by needs and the individuals you are targetting your work at - because I really do feel that this project had become something rather interesting as a result.